The December 12th anniversary of Boris Johnson’s “petrified” election victory over the weakest opposition in memory looms, and an extraordinary year. Not too much horribilis dose as our classically trained Prime Minister might, in another context, call him “terrible year“.
Deep inside, I can muster a little sympathy for our Beloved Leader. Attacking the Covid-19 pandemic at the start of his term was cruel. Even Johnson’s hero, Winston Churchill, would be in trouble. But the pandemic has exposed him because he is a weak, indecisive and incompetent leader, and the country is paying a terrible price.
It failed to prepare for the first wave in spring, or the second wave in fall. He failed to stockpile PPE, protect nursing homes, provide testing, or enforce a rapid lockdown. Lacking a coherent strategy, he has “veered like a shopping cart” between authoritarianism and libertarianism, between science and political wisdom, between saving lives and saving the economy. Now we’ve been given a brief respite from our terrible tiers so we can go out and spread the virus for five days over Christmas.
The result is the worst of all possible worlds. Although spend more money against Covid-19 (£ 280 billion and up) than any other G7 country except Canada, we also suffer from the second highest death rate after Italy.
[See also: The biggest mistakes made by Boris Johnson’s government during the Covid-19 crisis]
Pandemic is inevitable. Brexit is an option. Last summer the European Union (having mysteriously survived all of Brexiteer’s predictions of its imminent collapse) offered to extend the transition period after December 31, but Johnson in his discretion said no. So chaos will pile up on top of the chaos a month from now.
The post-Christmas spike in Covid will almost certainly coincide with uproar in our ports, disrupted supply lines, higher prices and shortages of food, fuel and medicine. Forecasts for the economy, which contracted by 11.3 percent in 2020 (its worst performance since 1709) will see a few percentage points more of losing growth over the next few years with or without the “oven ready” deals Johnson repeatedly promised 12 months ago.
All the trade agreements he promised failed to materialize – not even one with Trump’s America. Its “global UK” cut off foreign aid, dissolved the Department for International Development, cracked down on immigration and was consumed by a narrow and violent nationalism. The pandemic has shattered the myth that our tiny island can lift suspension bridges and “take back control” in this era of globalization.
Far from strengthening Great Britain, Brexit is accelerating disintegration in support for the Scottish wave of independence and Northern Ireland’s fragile peace is under threat. Far from being Singapore-on-Thames with low taxes and low regulations, we are facing a mountain of new bureaucracy and higher taxes to fill black holes in public finances.
AAre the costs of Brexit becoming all the more obvious, and the benefits even more illusory, who but a handful of crazy fanatics will celebrate our “liberation” on New Year’s Eve? And how incredible is it that in last week’s spending review statement, Rishi Sunak failed to mention Brexit once, despite the enormous economic consequences? Even among its supporters, Brexit has become a taboo topic, a dirty word.
Separated by Covid and Brexit, Johnson faces a third major indictment, namely, his humiliation of demeaning his post, undermining government institutions with all its checks and balances, and tarnishing Britain’s reputation in the world.
He explicitly condones violations of international law. He has undermined cabinet government by stuffing himself with compliant mediocrity (remember they all dutifully tweeted their support for Dominic Cummings after he blatantly broke the lockdown rules?). He has attempted to bypass parliament and politicize the civil service. He has tried to scare off the judiciary and the independent media.
[See also: How Priti Patel became unsackable]
The list goes on. He has ousted honest and capable civil servants, often through slander and anonymous briefings, while rewarding his cronies with jobs, aristocratic titles, and lucrative contracts. No other prime minister has been rebuked by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, like Johnson last month, for “packing up the composition of the interview panel with allies” and “the unregulated growth of appointments”.
He bravely and shamelessly refused to dismiss the ministers and assistants no matter how dire their offense was. He supported Priti Patel despite reports that concluded he was bullying civil servants, prompting his adviser to ministry standards to resign in protest. He stood next to Gavin Williamson despite his failed A level result. He continued to Cummings despite his Barnard Castle adventures. He ignored Robert Jenrick’s sleazy deal to build Richard Desmond’s £ 1 billion estate. He refuses to suspend Tory lawmaker accused of rape, but whips out another Conservative, Julian Lewis, who won election as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee and published a report on Russian interference in British politics.
Instead of trying to unite our fractured nations, Johnson often taunts the half of the country that voted for Remain. He ruled through a childish three-word slogan. He prefers a fantastic vision – the British space commando and wind farms that power every British home in nine years – to policies rooted in reality. If he really wants Britain to become a “world leader” in green energy, why not end the ten year tax freeze?
Johnson is so extravagant with public money that senior civil servants have requested 17 unprecedented “ministerial directives” to show disagreement with spending decisions they deem risky or wasteful. He has obfuscated, concealed, and played fast and loose with the facts, earning at least two rebukes from the UK Statistics Authority.
He has made so many empty promises – the “world beating” app, putting “a tiger in the tank” of the Brexit talks, delivers a pack of viruses within 12 weeks, in the summer, ahead of Christmas, ahead of the next Easter – that she has lost all credibility. As John Major observed in his brilliant speech on November 9, “false optimism is deception by another name.”
A year after Johnson’s election victory, I am struggling to think of one way in which the country has benefited from being prime minister, and I am definitely not alone. His approval rating has dropped to -24. The workers have caught up with the Tories in the poll. Despite having a majority of 80 seats, he struggled to win key parliamentary votes. He had squandered support even from the fawning Tory press, and the “leveling up” process seemed set to be reversed.
The good news is that one of our feeble, featherweight prime minister ended up being forced to ditch Cummings and his Vote Leave henchmen in favor of adults like Simon Case and Dan Rosenfield – and now there are only four years left until the next election.
[See also: The US’s nightmare is finally over but the UK’s is just beginning]